This piece was cross-posted from Politico and written by Jennifer Granholm:
Munich RE is an insurance company: what progressives often consider a methodical, calculating, machine using cold, heartless data to maximize profits. In a report to fellow insurance companies, Munich RE noted that the number of weather-related losses had quintupled over the past thirty years. In October, the company said, “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.”
This was not some tree-hugging environmental group: this was from the folks that pay out for catastrophes, and they know the score.
You think the wrangling over the fiscal cliff is painful? Just wait until we feel a few more Hurricane Sandys.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo testified about Sandy this week, stating: “This is a 50-to-60 billion dollar event” — and he was referring just to the New York portion of the recovery costs. In New Jersey, Governor Christie predicts costs to be $40 billion. We spent $16 billion on Hurricane Irene last year. And Hurricane Katrina cost the U.S. economy an estimated total of $250 billion. Hurricane damage makes the fiscal cliff look like a speed bump. Estimates for recovery from future events are in the trillions.
Over the next few years, recovery from catastrophic weather will either explode the deficit or implode domestic spending … or both. After all the necessary, life-saving FEMA spending, we’re going to long for today’s debt-to-GDP ratio.
We are racing to the tipping point. Right now. Not in a generation. Today. 2011 set a new record for carbon dioxide emissions. We are warming the planet – we’re melting the ice sheets and rendering land unable to grow food. We’re seeing rising ocean levels, droughts, floods, hurricanes, power outages, food shortages, and the price spikes and resource depletion that come with all of the above.
The New York Times reports that taxpayers insure coastal buildings to the tune of $527 billion through the National Flood Insurance Program, which has liabilities of $1.25 trillion – second only to Social Security. That’s insanity, especially when we know what’s coming. A real cliff. An environmental and financial cliff.
So, what can we do about it? We could begin the difficult slog of healing the planet by enacting a national clean energy jobs agenda. We could do our part to lead the world in reducing CO2 emissions, to slow the warming of the planet. We could listen to the panicked voices of 98 percent of scientists who warn that the planet is broken, irreparably, if we do not act.
Unfortunately, as we all know, certain members of Congress still refuse to accept that we, humans, are responsible for climate change. Their eyes firmly shut, they can’t see what’s in front of their noses. How many more Sandys will it take for them to get it? What more will it take? Blizzards in June? Floods in Aspen? Tornadoes at their campaign fundraisers?
Sixty-four percent of New Yorkers believe that Hurricane Sandy was tied to global warming; I bet the New York congressional delegation is hearing that. The believers will only continue to grow as the evidence mounts, as catastrophic events continue to bear down upon us. When the people feel the water flooding their homes and insurance payments hitting their wallets, they will make sure their representatives feel it, too. And that they do something about it.
The costs of doing nothing? Ask the Democratic governor of New York, or the Republican chief executive of New Jersey, or the shareholders of Munich RE. Mother Nature does not discriminate by political party or profit margin. The costs of her fury will be borne by the taxpayers these congressmen claim to represent. We can either mete out an ounce of prevention, or we can pay for the pounds and pounds of cure — take your pick. One way or another, the bill is coming due. And it’s a lot bigger than any fiscal cliff.
Jennifer Granholm is the former governor of Michigan, serving from 2003 to 2011. She is now host of “The War Room” on Current TV. She is also a visiting public policy and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Follow her on Twitter @JenGranholm.